Corning continues to innovate across industries

The company is stronger than ever, building on the potential of amazing nanotech material

November 4, 2016

“Today, the Southern Tier is really the hub of the glass universe,” Corning Chief Strategy Officer Jeffrey Evenson says of the world-renowned company’s upstate New York headquarters in the city of the same name. Since the late 19th century, when it developed the glass bulb for the Edison lamp, the name Corning has been synonymous with major innovation. It produced “Gorilla® Glass” — the super-slim and durable material used in the first iPhone, which can withstand the daily wear and tear (like a drop from a pocket) of a smartphone-wielding world. “At the end of the day,” Evenson says, “glass is the quintessential nanotech material.”

That nanotech material translates into atomic-level precision across Corning’s products. Its LCD screens are exceptionally flat, and only as thick as a few sheets of paper. Corning’s pioneering Gorilla Glass is an industry standard for mobile display covers, and is also making a disruptive entrance in the automotive industry with applications on windshields and interior displays. The company is also behind major product innovations in cancer screening and genomic research. Not to mention the optical communications that power our cloud data centers, web cables and video streaming.

Breakthrough discoveries and ingenious iterations
Today’s innovations may seem a long way from Corning’s 1851 start, but are in fact par for the course for the company that created PYREX® — the heat-resistant glassware that has facilitated major advances in research across medicine and chemistry — back in 1914. The company is known for encouraging the kind of mistakes and revisions — iterations, in today’s parlance — that lead to innovative development.

That’s because Corning’s reputation and work has been built on both “making life-changing innovations,” Evenson explains, and on its sizable historic commitment to advanced science and research and development. In response to the Clean Air Act of the 1970s, which sought to improve the nation’s air quality, the company applied its understanding of ceramic materials to the creation of substrates to limit emissions for gas and diesel, as well as for industrial plants and marine vessels.

Glass has been an essential part of many technological breakthroughs, including the fiber optic cable Corning invented back in the 1970s that powers the world’s high-speed internet today. That fiber is three times as strong as steel, and demand for it now runs the annual equivalent of cables “circling the planet 20 times every day,” Dr. Pushkar Tandon, a Corning Optical Communications Development Fellow, has noted.

Willow® Glass, one of Corning’s most recent innovations, is a glass so thin and flexible it can be printed like paper, and carried in spools. Today, the company has sales of approximately $10 billion, and has offices worldwide, with roughly 40,000 employees.

Top talent, tech schools, R&D – it’s all in the pipeline
Evenson underlines that Corning’s lauded R&D division naturally complements the region’s skilled workforce. The company has created a kind of pipeline between local education and the company in the Southern Tier. For instance, Corning collaborates to develop STEM curriculum in local public schools, and sponsors a P-TECH school that enables qualifying students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree in a technical field. The company also helps place young talent in community colleges like Corning Community and the photonics program at Monroe Community in Rochester. Corning supports research at technical programs in schools across the state including Cornell, Alfred, Binghamton and Clarkson universities, and attracts international scientists. The company also enables select current employees to pursue an advanced technical degree. It organizes symposia and seminars related to the company’s work.

The region’s historical background is also a boon to the company. During the latter part of the 19th century, the Southern Tier attracted manufacturing due to its proximity to transit and natural resources. Today, that geographic advantage continues. The machine learning coming out of schools like Cornell, and the University of Rochester in the neighboring Finger Lakes region, helps manufacturing facilities run better and more efficiently. Just as significantly, New York State provides a quality of life factor that Evenson thinks is crucial for employees.

Movers and makers craft a lifestyle in the Southern Tier
Evenson underscores that the region’s amenities provide a great overall lifestyle for Corning employees. In addition to the artistic community and the Corning Museum of Glass, Evenson explains that the area now boasts a food scene that built up around the agricultural innovations happening throughout the Northeast. The area has a maker culture that contributes to the climate of tinkering and exploration that’s long been a part of the scientific community. The research universities and arts environment “encourages networks and collaborations that go across professions and special interest groups,” Evenson says.

That network translates into the kind of ecosystem Evenson wants for Corning employees. “We serve industry-leading customers around the world, but a big part of it is the knowledge that we create. All of the research going on with control systems, controlling materials at the atomic level, new manufacturing techniques, all of that’s happening around us.” Evenson wants Corning employees to be challenged and find connections in their environment.

It’s also a great time to be in the Southern Tier, a region that was awarded $500 million by the state in 2015 as a part of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, a transformative economic development program aimed at revitalizing the upstate economy. As Corning grows, Evenson wants to leverage the company’s investment in R&D for more experimentation, “learning how to take the fruits of what we do, like Willow Glass to lead to totally new categories.” Through its educational partnerships and ongoing innovation, there’s plenty to look forward to as the next generation of Corning scientists continues using glass to reinvent the world.


For more information on the materials processing industry in New York State, contact Michael Morse at [email protected] or (518) 292-5200.